15 minutes with… Ali Soner Guvemli, JJ Food Service

Chief product officer Ali Soner Guvemli works at delivered foodservice specialist JJ Food Service, managing all eight of the businesses’ branch managers

What was your first-ever job?

When I was younger, I lived in Turkey and had three different jobs: I worked in a coffee shop, an off-licence and a restaurant. It gave me a good grounding in what foodservice and catering customers want. But it was also hard work starting out at the bottom!

How did you end up at JJ Food Service?

I joined six years ago when I came to live in the UK. The boss here, Mustafa Kiamil, recruited me. He saw I had potential and for the first few years, he spent every day taking me to see suppliers and customers, and taught me how to negotiate. Today, I’m in charge of the commercial side of the business. Whenever I recruit someone, I always look at their personality and potential before anything else.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I like the challenge. I work six days a week and I’m always out and about. We have eight branches and I visit each one every month, reviewing every category from ambient to freezer. I also visit our customers to ask what more we can do for them and travel the world looking for new suppliers to work with. My next trip is to New Zealand and Australia to source a new frozen meat supplier.

What’s a typical day like?

Every day, there’s a different challenge to deal with. For example, one branch manager might ask me for a new truck to grow their business. If they put a good case forward and everyone agrees, we give them the truck. Another manager might tell me he can’t take a full delivery. Our warehouses are very lean – some stock as little as 1,000 SKUs, with just one week stock holding (most wholesalers have 30 days) – so I divide the delivery up between branches.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

As a business, we are working on broadening our market to high-end restaurants, pubs and hotels. To meet our new customers’ needs, we are looking at many new suppliers to deliver the quality that they expect. We are also expanding into new areas, such as fresh beef, which is in high demand by foodservice operators. Many of our customers want to know where their food has come from so we are also working with local suppliers who have high animal welfare standards.

You’re always dealing with food. Outside of JJ Food Service, where do you like to eat?

When I was at university, I lived away from my family so I had to learn to cook to survive. The city where I stayed was near the seaside so we always had access to fresh fish, which is my speciality. I make a delicious dish called guvec – it’s a traditional Mediterranean meal with mushrooms, fish and grilled cheese. I make it at home with sea bass from JJ Food Service – we source it from Izmir in Turkey.ben stiller

Who would play you in the film of your life?

My colleagues say that I’m funny and friendly, a bit like a big brother, so maybe Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller (pictured). But if I’m angry, I might be more like Al Pacino!


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